A tale of customer amazement from quite possibly the busiest places in the world.
With over 350,000 pedestrians on an average day, nearer to 460,000 on busy days and approximately 100,000 car drivers/passengers daily, Times Square, NY is an incredible hub of humankind.
Known as ‘the crossroads of the world’ in midtown Manhattan, Times Sq is not renowned for it customer service. When asked most people are quoted as saying the opposite, often citing New Yorkers as rude and offhand. A recent survey in the Business Insider (Aug 2013) , New York was described as a having the most arrogant people in the United states.
But that’s not the whole story, and after a recent trip to New York I have learned there are often two sides to be heard.
Precious gems are meant to be rare, but if you look hard enough, you will find them. Like digging for diamonds in the depths of the Diavik mines, if you know where to look and you have an eye for treasure, you’ll find that rare moment of service you are searching for.
Earlier this week I was wandering around Times Sq, passing time before we had to leave later for JFK Airport. Just before lunch, at around 12:30 it started to drizzle. In the distance the gathering clouds were very dark and ominous. A rumble of thunder told everyone there was a storm on the way. In just a few short minutes the storm landed on Times Sq, as drizzle turned to heavy rain, people ran quickly for cover or hastily looked to buy rain gear.
Of course this is land of opportunity, shops and street sellers are fast to react to make a quick buck from the stranded tourists looking for an umbrella or poncho.
I took shelter under a shop front on the corner of 46th & 7th. On the pavement nearby was a street seller who’s normal retail was baseball caps. He was a young man in his twentys, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, with a close cut affro. As the rain came in, he put on a poncho and started to sell umbrellas. With an array of cheeky sales pitch comments, he teased the passing pedestrians into stopping to purchase a handy brolly.
His style was enough to make me stop a while and enjoy patter.
What he did next was what Shep Hyken would describe as “A Moment of Magic” and captures the essence of ‘amazement’ in his book “The Cult of the Customer”.
46th street crossing 7th Avenue is extremely busy, with a never ending flow of traffic and people.
With the rain falling heavily pedestrians were scuttling across the road and vehicles were waiting impatienly for the lights to change. At one point, as the rain continued to fall, an elderly man was slowly crossing. He was a little unsure on his feet and careful to tread his path.
When the ligths changed, he was the only person left on the road and the vehicles began to encroach on the designated crossing zone. With about three yards to go he was struggling to go more quickly to reach the other side.
The umbrella seller was quick to react. He immediately saw the grey haired old man needed help and without a second thought shouted to his ‘assistant’ who was sheltering a few feet away from me.
“Yo, go and help that man cross the road” he shouted in a strong Brooklyn accent, gesturing to the stranded pedestrian.
His assistant duly ran to the gentleman’s aid, offered his arm and escorted him safely to the pavement and onto level ground.
The gent nodded to the seller, thanked his assistant and continued on his way.
Just few seconds in a busy, chaotic day in Times Sq that made a huge impression on me and a few others that noticed.
What did I learn?
First of all I learned that I am not always as quick to react and see a need as I’d like to think. Nor did anyone else in that split second and I suspect several others would have checked themselves for not helping.
I also learnt that in all my experiences of being a customer in New York, my amazement experience came from a most unexpected source. There are many companies, retail outlets, food outlets, shops and stores in the city that I visited this week. Many of whom did impress me as a customer and did a great job. However, out of all the big brand names, chains, franchises and business, the one that most impressed me beyond any doubt was a man whole buys and sells goods from a street stall. A micro business by anyones definition.
And I wasn’t even his customer,.. till then.
Guess who I bought a $5 umbrella from before I moved on?
The next time you are in New York, don’t just listen to the hype about rude and uncooperative local people, give someone a chance to impress you. You might be as surprised and delighted as I was.